Preserving an Heirloom: Family Finds New Home for Rare Ford Combine

Dan Depner never realized how rare his Uncle Joe's 1959 Ford 611 was, until 55 years later when he discovered that it was one of just 51 models built that year.

| February 2015

As a boy, Dan Depner regularly saw his great-uncle Joe’s 1959 Ford 611 self-propelled combine in action. But he had no idea of its rarity – a Ford combine manufactured under contract by Oliver Machinery Co. in its plant in Battle Creek, Michigan. Nor did he realize that just 51 of the models were built that year. And he certainly didn’t realize that, 55 years later, he and his brother, Eric, would sell the combine in an online auction.

The Ford 611 self-propelled combine is identical to the Oliver 25 self-propelled combine, with the exception of the paint color – red vs. green – and the engine. The Ford used a 223-ci straight 6-cylinder Ford engine, while the Oliver had a flathead Continental 6. In 1959, 101 combines were built at the Oliver plant in Battle Creek: 51 Fords and 50 Olivers.

Just two nights outside

Joe Pelant would be classified as a character. “He never did anything fast,” Dan says. “He never drove anything in high gear or fast, not even his car or pickup truck. He would drive the two miles to town to get groceries in low and slow. On the combine, standing most of the time, he drove low and slow.”

Joe, a dairy farmer, bought a new combine in 1959 from the Webber Bros. Ford dealership in Pigeon, Michigan, eight miles south of Caseville, Michigan, where Dan lives. “He planted wheat, corn and dried beans taken up with a bean header pickup,” Dan says. “Though an attachment was available for a corn header, Joe never bought one.” After he died, his machinery went to his younger sister, Dan’s grandmother. “Some machinery was distributed to other family members and some was sold,” Dan says, “but my brother, Eric, kept the combine.”

Eric is a Ford lover. He’s restored a couple old Ford pickups. And as a teenager, he helped out on Joe’s farm. “That combine was the one thing that we didn’t let go,” Dan says. “We just kept it in the shed where it had always been stored. We didn’t know too much about it but we knew we hadn’t seen any others like it around.”

Joe was meticulous about keeping his machinery stored in the shed. “He didn’t like to leave things out in the weather at night,” Dan says. “My dad says he only knew of two times during all those years that the combine stayed outside at night. That made a real impression on my dad.”